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‘I don’t think that Indigenous peoples were at large opposed with this bill, and I don’t think hunters or sports groups oppose this legislation,’ the public safety minister told senators Monday

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc: “We’re not criminalizing people, we’re trying to protect potential victims.” Photo by Justin Tang/The Canadian Press/File

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OTTAWA — Dismissing much of the criticism over the Liberals’ proposed gun laws, Canada’s public safety minister said Monday that he is confident the final version will satisfy the concerns raised by hunting, sport-shooting and First Nations groups.

Making his first appearance Monday as public safety minister in front of the Senate national security, defence and veterans affairs committee, Dominic LeBlanc downplayed the tumult over Bill C-21 as the usual sort of furor kicked up when governments attempt to modify firearms policy.

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“Every time governments, or Parliament, legislates in this area, (you get) a very quick reaction from hunting groups, sport shooters — many of whom are in my constituency in rural New Brunswick,” he said.

LeBlanc was named public safety minister in July, replacing Marco Mendicino.

The Liberal government has long been under fire for the law, with a variety of critics arguing that it does nothing to address the root causes of gun violence or stop the flow of illegal guns coming into Canada, but rather punishes legal hunters, sport shooters and Indigenous groups by banning many firearms.

LeBlanc was responding to a question from Sen. Victor Oh, who asked the minister if concern over C-21 would undermine Canadian support for gun control, specifically mentioning concerns from Indigenous groups over two now-deleted amendments that would have prohibited scores of hunting rifles.

“I don’t think that Indigenous peoples were at large opposed with this bill, and I don’t think hunters or sports groups oppose this legislation,” LeBlanc told senators during Monday’s meeting, acknowledging that an “initial version” of the bill caused “a concern” among these groups.

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“That’s why I think the legislative process in our place, I hope, to a large extent attenuated and diminished those concerns.”

In December, the Assembly of First Nations passed an emergency resolution opposing C-21, which it said infringes on treaty hunting and harvesting rights.

Other First Nations groups said they were left out of consultations altogether.

Testifying before the House public safety committee earlier this year, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Chief Jessica Lazare told MPs that existing firearms legislation already limits her people’s ability to exercise their treaty rights.

These concerns were echoed Monday by Sen. Don Plett, who asked the minister to explain how Indigenous engagement was such a key part of C-21’s creation when First Nations groups say they weren’t consulted.

“The elements of this bill, and it’s stated clearly in the legislation, are respectful of Indigenous rights,” LeBlanc responded, maintaining that former public safety minister Mendicino — who was shuffled out of cabinet over the summer — held numerous consultations with First Nations organizations.

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Sen. Margaret Dawn Anderson, who represents the Northwest Territories, said Indigenous concerns go beyond hunting — drawing attention to the legislation’s so-called “red flag” rules, which allow Canada’s chief firearms officer to summarily revoke firearms licences as a means to protect victims of domestic or gender-based violence.

“This is at the risk of further creating disparities in the three territories, and criminalizing individuals,” she said.

“In Bill C-21, there appears to be a presumption of guilt when there are no reasonable grounds to have proven that there has been an offence committed. This is problematic.”

Experts have long criticized C-21’s ability to permit anybody to apply for emergency weapons prohibitions against licensed firearms owners — regardless of how well they know them — as putting marginalized groups disproportionately targeted by Canada’s justice system at even greater risk.

LeBlanc defended the red flag laws, stating they are among the new tools C-21 will provide law enforcement.

“We’re not criminalizing people, we’re trying to protect potential victims,” LeBlanc told Anderson.

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Bill C-21 passed third reading in the House of Commons in May.

The bill passed second reading in the Senate in June and is currently at committee stage.

Before he was shuffled out of cabinet, Mendicino served as spokesperson for the government’s firearms policy rewrites, which included two sweeping amendments quietly introduced into the bill that would ostensibly outlaw rifles commonly used by Canadian hunters.

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The amendments were introduced nearly a year ago while the bill was under review by the House public safety committee and after debate on C-21 in the House of Commons had concluded — a move criticized by Conservative, Bloc Québécois and NDP committee members.

At the time, Mendicino responded to criticism over the amendments by saying his government had no intention of going after hunters or their firearms, dismissing those concerns as “Conservative fearmongering.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would later contradict these assurances in television interviews.

“There’s some guns out there — not many, but some — that hunters are now using for hunting that are overpowered or have characteristics that make them assault-style weapons,” the prime minister told CBC News last December.

“There are some people who hunt with a gun that is considered an assault-style weapon and will have to change weapons on that.”

Opposition to the amendments even came from within the Liberals’ own ranks after Yukon MP Brendan Hanley described the amendments as “upsetting” and refused to support them. 

In a rare show of contrition, the government eventually walked back the amendments in February, a move Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre described as a “humiliating climbdown” for the Trudeau Liberals.

Despite past committee testimony from Canada’s police chiefs that most crime guns in this country are smuggled north from the United States, RCMP acting commissioner Mark Flynn testified otherwise.

“If you look at the firearms we’ve traced through our tracing efforts, 69 per cent of those firearms were deemed to have legally been imported or manufactured in Canada,” he told senators on Monday.

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“When you combine those two facts together, you see that legal firearms that are in Canada are likely contributing to the pool of firearms that are being used in gang-related and organized crime homicides.”

He said that gang-related gun murders increased by 27 per cent in 2021

More recent reports suggest how important this file is to the Trudeau Liberals.

Emails uncovered earlier this month by the National Post suggests the Liberals dropped plans for a voluntary gun buy back and replaced it with mandatory confiscation in 2021 after outspoken gun control organization PolySeSouvient publicly disinvited the prime minister from future commemorations of the 1989 mass shooting at École Polytechnique.

The government eventually revised this policy, and the prime minister appeared at the 2021 and 2022 ceremonies marking the massacre.

National Post

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